The ongoing series in which local performers interpret personal letters written by culturally vital individuals from various times and Louisiana communities. Performances are free and open to the general public. Ordinarily, readings are live. Due to COVID-19, current programming is podcast, listen HERE.
The 2021 Season:
June 30: Bananas Anyone?
Premiering on anchor.fm/letters-read, this podcast comprises readings from the 1905 scrapbook produced contemporaneously with the last documented yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans and the United States. In photographs and text, this interesting relic presents the idea that bananas imported by the largest importer of them in the world were safe and did not promote the spread of yellow fever. The link to anchor.fm will go live at 6:00 pm CST on Wednesday, June 30th.
What was the purpose for this curious piece of ephemera compiled and produced in New Orleans? Documentation of United Fruit’s best practices in sanitation and mosquito abatement? For over four years prior, effective protocols for mosquito eradication had already been in place for most American cities. But not New Orleans.
As explained previously in the December 2020 Letters Read Incubator, in 1901, Major Walter Reed, M.D., U.S. Army, and his colleagues confirmed the theory that yellow fever was transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and not by human contact. Further:
Despite the conclusions of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board … many people in New Orleans still did not take the threat of mosquitoes seriously. Residents got their water from wooden cisterns, a breeding ground for the insects.—American Experience, NPR.
In a stubborn manner usual to New Orleanians, preemptive measures had not yet been adopted by all citizens. As a result, in the city that had been ravaged multiple times by catastrophe and disease, in 1905 cases of the saffron scourge did show up presaging another, and final, yellow fever epidemic.
Here is a link to view the entire scrapbook.
March 25: The Letters of Edgar Degas
A podcast of personal letters from Edgar Degas surrounding his 4-month stay in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.
Join us for an intimate listen to thoughts and emotions experienced by Edgar Degas as he visits his mother’s family in the Crescent City as it strives to heal post-antebellum wounds after the American Civil War. Business, money, family, property ownership, class, race, and privilege, all play important roles in this compelling story.
In late 1872, Degas accompanied his brother René to New Orleans where he observed his paternal family’s business managing the post-Civil War cotton trade. The painting used to illustrate this online event is the oft cited depiction of his time here. It captures a moment during the decline of his uncle Michel Musson’s business, the Cotton Office. Which went bankrupt shortly thereafter.
Upon his return to France early in 1873, Edgar learned that René had also bankrupted their own father’s banking business.
It was about this time and occasioned by the family’s multiple financial misfortunes that Degas turned his trade as a serious painter into a successful livelihood.